To begin with, not all eligible voters would turn up at election centres to vote, for reasons like being out of town, overseas, or simply could not be bothered who wins.
With BN's deep pockets, some voters actually look forward to receiving some cash in exchange for their votes, but who they actually vote for would remain a secret... unless the voting slips have been marked for scrutiny after the election.
If the candidates are relatively unknown to the voters, party symbols are important to voters when voting. Some voters are hardcore supporters of a party and any candidate selected will be supported. Other voters are more discerning and they scrutinize the candidates' credentials before deciding who to vote for. Qualifications, party or social work track record, character and personality are important criteria to base on. Personal political beliefs and how far a candidate is prepared to go to stand by his convictions despite harassment and jail sentence would endear him to the voters. It is therefore unsurprising to see opposition leaders who had been into the slammer could win votes easily. They are portrayed as having strong character and who cannot be easily cowed by the authorities. YAB Lim Guan Eng stood out as a good example of someone who was jailed unreasonably and who is now Chief Minister of Penang!
Most of us do not have the privilege of voting for candidates of our choice because the candidates who stand for election are selected by their parties and depend on where we are registered as voters. It would take a determined person to actually move his address to where his favourite candidate will stand for election. Even that does not guarantee him that privilege because the person might not be selected by his party!
To most of us, we have already decided which party or coalition to support, and unless the local candidate is such an obnoxious character or a personal enemy, chances are that we will vote according to party symbol. Some would make an exception to this party loyalty rule where an independent candidate or a candidate from a party not of our choice happens to be someone we admire.
I had come across people who suggested that we vote BN at state level for development, but to vote opposition candidate as MP to enable him or her to voice out at national level. I believe certain BN candidates for state seats could have used this ruse to improve their chances when the sentiments were unfavourable to them. This perception of BN for development had been reinforced by years of BN's unfair allocation of development funds to only BN representatives. Development funds for opposition representatives are channeled to the local district office for distribution, which to all intent and purposes, are also under the control of BN.
Najib's unethical 'you help me to help you' distribution of goodies during campaign periods at by-elections had proven the advantage of having a strong opposition. It was because of the fear of losing that BN had to resort to bribing the voters. In other words, had it been a very safe BN seat, then they will not have to resort to such blatant offers of cash and kind. The most common and obvious signs of instant development are the re-surfacing of roads, cutting of grass and clearing of clogged drains. Najib had taken it even further by promising millions in development provided his candidate wins!